Sunday, June 15, 2008

Marketing Tips

You’ve finally decided to follow your heart and open a woodworking business. Your shop is fully-equipped, you have years of experience, stacks of lumber, and you’ve just hung your sign out.

Now what?

How do you find customers? How will customers find you? How will you ensure that you have enough business to stay in business?

Following are a few of the things I’ve learned in my 22 years as a graphic designer. These items apply to all types of businesses but are not necessarily in order of priority.
1. The very best advertising is word of mouth referrals. Stay in touch with your existing clients and ask them to pass your name along to their friends.
2. You don’t need stationery, but you do need a logo and business card. Logos speak volumes about you and your business, and a business card reflects your image and provides your contact information in a compact format. So if you are planning to hire a designer, here’s where you should start. If you’re going to design your own logo and don’t have design experience, fault on the side of simplicity and readability. The best logos are simple, memorable, and can hold up in small format (business card), large format (outdoor signage), and black & white (fax and print ad).
3. Hire a photographer. With businesses that sell product, a professional photographer is the number one priority (along with logo). You are what you create. And if your creations are presented in an unsophisticated way, what does that say about you?
4. Second priority is a copywriter. A talented wordsmith can turn phrases that elevate your image, adding value to your work. Professional copywriting is the bow on the present, that necessary touch that ties everything together and adds style & polish. If you choose to write your own material, be sure to run a spell check and have someone with a good grip on grammar look it over.
Tips on writing your own copy: less is better, be professional, emphasize your strong points & the things that make you unique (do you apply a hand-rubbed finish? do you use only locally-salvaged lumber? do you handcut your dovetails?). Keep in mind that people no longer have time to read lengthy prose and you only have a few seconds to convince them to choose you.
5. Third priority is a graphic designer (unless your business is service-oriented, in which case a designer is the #1 priority). Designers provide the stage for your presentation and define your image through graphic elements, color, font, placement, balance, hierarchy, and pattern. If hiring a designer is cost-prohibitive, see if a university nearby has a graphic design department. Check with the art department faculty to see if any students are looking for freelance work and if they can make a recommendation based on your needs.
6. Set up a website. It’s more important than a brochure. View other websites that you admire and use them as springboards for your own. Above all, make sure it’s easy to navigate, easy to find your contact information, and loads quickly.
7. Know your audience. If your target is high-end clients, then your marketing material must be elegant and tasteful to appeal to that demographic. Conversely, if your target is environmentally-conscious individuals, your material should have an earthy, natural appearance.
8. Make friends. Network. Join your local woodworking club. People have asked me on several occasions if I would build something for them. I tell them I’m not for hire, but Dan or Rick, who I know from my woodworking club and who both own woodworking businesses, can do the job. My friends have obtained business referrals simply by knowing another woodworker.
9. Send a press release to your local newspaper. Did you build something for a community project? Donate a piece for a local charity? Is there something special about your business that would be of interest? Editors of local papers are always looking for interesting material and a newspaper article gives you credibility and free advertising.

I could go on and on and if people seem interested, I’ll write another post on the subject in future. In the meantime, here are two excellent books on marketing that are written specifically for woodworkers: The Woodworker’s Marketing Guide; and Profitable Woodworking, Turning Your Hobby into a Profession.

Disclaimer: I am not looking for more business; I have all I can handle. But I’m happy to freely offer suggestions to people who share my passion for woodworking.